James Thomas Stevens

from The Golden Book

A Warning

No bark scroll of rhetoric

but skin-writ in

darkness in

personal conference.

Your eyebrow licked

smooth by a tongue

to a pointed tip. Lips

come pressed

to your downy temple, 


          in aftermath.

A slurry of symbols writ

across thigh.

Wrestled by

the man

trying to capture

his own

Wrestling, he touched

your hip and you were



            toward new


Clear thinking required

not the clarity of

mezcal in

               finest cut crystal,

not a mastery

of rules and a

                memory full of

difficulties,            but precision.

To stop to think

about form in mid-career,

the form of this


Isn’t every

encounter a cross
                            to bear,

a cultural one?

The small battles.

The volleys.

The flag raisings.

The arrow stuck hard

in the doorpost or yard.

Your foreign skin


foreign touch.

How differently

the customs come. 

Do I swaddle

in your striped bathrobe?

Do I lift your cap?

The man who writes

with one eye on rhetoric

                                    is the man who can’t tell

whether to take off his hat

or to use fork or spoon

                                    without consultation.

These things must be

instinctual and


before they prove of value.

Know Where You Are Going

Lay him

like the carefully

surveyed road.

Out before you.

In before you.

When what is out comes in, 

the story out the mouth and into the ear.

The squash from out the blossom

into the broth.

A hand from its deerskin mitten

to sleet and northern cold.

Know where you are going.

Lay him carefully

out like a map, in like a lion.

Know which He you are writing of:

He, the pianist carpenter, or

He, the poet violinist.

In like lions, out like lambs.

Set Up Sign-Posts

From the start, 

we look for signs, symbols

of the place we are headed.

Bent trees we call trail.

Guide ourselves through

their bowlegs/bent shafts.

Set sign-posts.

A potted geranium

at forever bedside to guide

me to him.

Crushed leaves that


of tobacco scented


His hand so often over

my mouth before the

open summer window above

the door of an all night diner.

We glance at the road we have come

to remind ourselves of position/direction.

Set sign-posts

The tuning peg he left

from the violin with the wolf note,

and the wooden box of rosin,

now lodged in a notch

between the logs

of a wooden frame,

stays hidden above the door.

In superstition convinced,

they will lead him

back to our storied sentence,

both subject and predicate.

Point to your beloved.

Remind him of his progress.

At the end tell him that

you have arrived—and see

that he understands it.

Don’t have him turning over the sheet and

saying with a start: “Oh, that's all there was to it.”

Why Wake to Light the Moon?

       on the loss of my dog’s eye

It arrives six weeks after ordering online,

from Asia. I wake at 1:30 am to turn on the moon.

I think of your lone eye, how they asked of its twin,

Enucleate or eviscerate?

But what is a galaxy

                                                  scraped clean of stars?


Now I turn on the moon with a

                                                 tap of its USB ring,

watch your sole eye, turn to

stare at dark lunar maria. A red spot

on your Martian cornea swirls

against a milky way.


Zonules that once held a 

satellite lens in place . . . dissolve


and echolocation, leads you back 

                                                   to me.

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Author Bio

James Thomas Stevens (Akwesasne Mohawk) attended the Institute of American Indian Arts, Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, and Brown University’s Graduate Creative Writing Program. Stevens is the author of eight books of poetry, including, Combing the Snakes From His Hair, Mohawk/Samoa: Transmigrations, A Bridge Dead in the Water, The Mutual Life, Bulle/Chimere, and Disorient, and has recently finished a new manuscript, The Golden Book. He is a 2000 whiting award recipient and teaches in the undergraduate and graduate creative writing programs at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe and he lives in Cañoncito, New Mexico.